Mind control is a storytelling problem. By taking away characters' agency, mind control removes them as characters. Despite this, the world of The Vampire Diaries has always included mind control as a device to keep the plot moving, then discarded it as it becomes inconvenient (look at how quickly Silas' powers were disposed of!). But it very rarely dealt with the ethical consequences of mind control—it was merely an occasionally distasteful tool to be used, then perhaps to be embarrassed by when it's revealed.
Since The Originals springs from the same font, I don't necessarily expect it to fully deal with its setting's version of mind control, vampiric compulsion. But if it does, that will be welcome, and tonight's episode may be the start of that impulse. The main storyline threaded throughout “Girl In New Orleans” is the tension between Klaus wanting to befriend Cami the bartender, and also wanting to use her to spy on Marcel.
Klaus being Klaus, he still compels Cami. But at multiple points throughout “Girl In New Orleans,” they engage in a debate over it. Klaus, in explaining what his motivations are generally, also seeks to justify his compulsion of Cami. Does he want to protect Hayley? Does he want to provide more freedom to Davina? Both may be technically true, but Klaus is certainly rationalizing on Davina's end—he would trap or kill her to serve his needs. But that's normal for Klaus.
Cami's expanded role, on the other hand, is a change for the better. After serving as merely the bare bones of a character in the previous episodes of the series, she's finally become a person. Her psychology study, which had been treated as window-dressing before, becomes more interesting as she tries to understand how compulsion works. (Does it change the neural paths?) But more critically, she wants to be a character. She wants to have agency. That manifests as a generalized desire early in the episode, but after the revelation about her twin brother, it becomes very specific: Cami wants to solve the mystery of his death, and perhaps gain revenge. Klaus takes that away from her, partially out of paternalism, partially out of the need to maintain her as a puppet for his plans. But the continued need to explain, and her rejection of his explanations, suggests a tension that could turn debates over mind control into a good storyline.
I'm a little concerned about the revelation about Cami's brother, though. She's in New Orleans in order to investigate his bizarre murder-suicide in Davina's church, a building that includes an ominous new priest character to boot. This plot contrivance relies on a few too many conveniences for Cami to really be an innocent in all this—but what little narrative power her character possesses relies on her being relatively innocent to the world of the supernatural.
The other key structural development of “Girl In New Orleans” is that our last major player, Davina, starts to receive a personality as well. She rebels against Marcel a little bit, and gets to go out for a night on the town in order to watch her crush perform. I'm a little unsure if turning her into a normal teenaged girl with superpowers is such a good idea. Prior to this, she'd been almost inhuman in her portrayal. After this, she's just another girl, just another witch, in an incredibly fast case of badass decay. This can possibly pay dividends later, but I'm not yet sold on the actress, so we'll have to see.
Most of the rest of “Girl In New Orleans” exists to build story potential, in the same way that the Cami-Klaus scenes have built thematic potential. There are all sorts of different metaphors that might work here: setting the table? arranging the pieces on the board? shifting alliances? Rebekah appears to be breaking free of Klaus' orbit, and possibly attempting to get back with Marcel—or manipulate him. One witch, Agnes, decides to work directly against Sophie and either kill or capture Hayley. Hayley either has a werewolf pack doing her dirty work for her, or has been given even more supernatural powers by her pregnancy. Elijah awakens. The new priest threatens Marcel, or at least asserts himself as a power.
It's fairly impressive how confident the writers are in how many different facets of the story there are—but we'll see if they're right to have that confidence in the next few weeks. The Originals still may be trying to push its plot ahead of everything else, but it has moments of greatness that suggest it can be more. Klaus, for all his protestations about how he's not that evil, vindictively tosses a musician's instrument of a balcony after he tosses the musician. He may be willing to save the man for his plot, but he's also willing to destroy what that man loves. It's moments like that that make me think that the show understands what it can be in addition to being a crazy supernatural runaway train.
- “I think you could benefit from talking to someone professionally.” Cami gets Klaus, but she doesn't GET Klaus.
- Speaking of Cami, she's very convenient for the writer, in that as long as she's naïve about what's going on, other characters will shower her with exposition!
- “Why even bother with politeness?” “…because I like you.”
- Klaus expresses a bit of self-awareness when trying to manipulate Davina: “Then poor Tim might end up leverage in a horrible plot against you. Again.”